Use This Book Tonight is designed to help you figure out how to best incorporate a new Dungeons & Dragons book into your game. This month, we'll look at something a little different than the past few articles. Instead of taking on a rules supplement, I'll instead give you one idea for how to kick start our latest super-adventure, Red Hand of Doom.
|Spoiler Warning! Since this article mentions plot aspects from Red Hand of Doom, players are discourage from reading further, and encouraged instead to send a link for this webpage to their DMs.
Red Hand of Doom is designed for characters that start around 5th or 6th level. Those of us in RPG R&D believe 5th level to be the best starting point for PCs in this adventure; not only does this make the first section of the adventure more challenging, but the PCs have a chance for greater customization if they hit 6th level after they've discovered the plot and gain an understanding of the adventure's style and scope. This way, their 6th level feat choice can be tailor-made for the adventure.
This article presents an encounter that you can drop into your campaign that provides a tangible hook to get PCs moving toward Red Hand of Doom's location. While I ran this encounter as a direct lead-in to the adventure, it could also fit just as easily as a short side-trek in the middle of an ongoing adventure. I'd suggest running the encounter when the PCs are 4th level, and toward the end of 4th level/beginning of 5th level if you plan to move directly into Red Hand of Doom.
What You Need to Read
Take a quick look at the following before running this encounter:
- The adventure background section on pg. 4 of Red Hand of Doom.
- The encounter below uses hobgoblin regulars and a hobgoblin veteran; stat blocks for both are on pages 119 and 120, respectively. You'll want to familiarize yourself with those stats, since they comprise half of the encounter. Our web enhancement also collates these creature stats.
- You'll need a Monster Manual handy to reference stats for the ogre (pg. 199).
The half-dragon hobgoblin warrior Azarr Kul is raising a massive army of dragons, goblinoids, and any other monsters that will follow his banner. To this end, he's sent hobgoblin emissaries throughout the region to enlist the aid of all manner of creatures. One such group of hobgoblins is halfway through its mission; they're currently in the process of recruiting an ogre that's taken up residence in a hillside cave at the fringes of populated land (near where the PCs are adventuring), living off of pigs and sheep stolen from nearby farmsteads.
The PCs might inadvertently stumble upon the ogre's lair as they travel through the wilderness, or they could be investigating missing livestock on behalf of the local farmers.
The ogre's cave is a simple affair, a roughly square cave about forty feet across. It is littered with mostly-eaten pigs and other animals, and a pile of not entirely cured animal hides provides a rudimentary bed, with a fresh sheepskin apparently being used as a pillow.
The group of hobgoblin emissaries consists of three hobgoblin regulars and a single hobgoblin veteran. By the time the PCs arrive, the hobgoblins have already presented their offer to the ogre, along with a small pouch filled with gold and the promise of more to come in Azarr Kul's service. The ogre is within the cave, contemplating the offer... since he's none too bright, it takes him a while to mull over his options. The hobgoblins consider themselves professional soldiers, and maintain a vigilant watch as they wait for the ogre to emerge with his answer (after all, in their minds the ogre is just as likely to attack them as join them).
The terrain around the cave can be whatever is appropriate to your campaign, but should include some amount of blocking terrain, such as forests, large boulders, and so on, to allow your party members a chance to sneak up on the hobgoblins if they are so inclined. The hobgoblins all have Spot and Listen modifiers of +3 (+4 Spot for the veteran). If they see the PCs, they attack quickly and efficiently.
The ogre waits five rounds before emerging from the cave once battle begins (since he's lost in thought, after all). The hobgoblins, however, waste no time in moving to attack. They attempt to attack in pairs, denying opponents a flank if possible, while setting themselves up to take a 5-foot step to flank the PCs. If the PCs use ranged attacks, the hobgoblins answer in kind, taking cover while using their composite longbows. At range, they target spellcasters first, and also try to concentrate their efforts on any PC that exhibits healing magic. Once the ogre emerges, it charges the nearest PC, only changing targets if another deals more damage than its current target.
The hobgoblin regulars, eager to impress their leader, fight to the death unless the hobgoblin veteran falls, in which case they attempt to flee. When first reduced to half hit points, the veteran will attempt to step back and quaff a healing potion, so long as he can do so without provoking attacks of opportunity. The veteran fights to the death, however, proclaiming the Red Hand's victory even with his final breath. The ogre will fall back into the cover of its cave if assaulted from range, answering arrows or spells with javelins, but will fight to defend his home. If the PCs flee, the ogre will only chase them for a round or two before heading back to his cave to count his coins.
The hobgoblin veteran, in addition to his normal possessions, carries two small black leather pouches each marked with a bright red hand. Inside each pouch are exactly 75 gp, and a note written in goblin which states "Bring glory to the Red Hand. Come to where the Wyrmsmokes and Witchwood join, and we will destroy the humans and build an empire!"
A similar pouch is within the ogre's cave, though the note is crumpled and tossed aside, since the ogre isn't much for reading. In addition to the pouch and note, the ogre had managed a small collection of gemstones, with a bloodstone, an amethyst, a golden yellow topaz, and a handful of malachite stones all scattered about his bedding (total value of all gems: 600 gp).
From the presence of the pouches and notes on the hobgoblin and in the cave, the PCs should be able to deduce the hobgoblins' reason for being near the ogre's lair.
Once they translate the notes, any character that makes a DC 15 Knowledge (geography) check will recognize the Wyrmsmokes as a mountain range and the Witchwood as a forest near Elsir Vale. A DC 20 Knowledge (geography) check indicates that Drellin's Ferry is the closest settlement to where the mountains and forest meet.
If the PCs take evidence of the ogre back to the local farmers, they pay the party 50 gp, and one of the farmers gives the PCs a family heirloom masterwork weapon.
Scaling the Encounter
If your PCs are already 5th or 6th level, but you'd still like to throw in this encounter to get them hooked into the Red Hand of Doom plot, you could upgrade the hobgoblins to three veterans led by a hobgoblin sergeant. In this case, place one of the veterans within the cave with the ogre. This will approximate an EL 6 encounter and an EL 5 encounter, run back-to-back.
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About the Author
Stephen Schubert is a Developer with RPG/Minis R&D, has co-authored Heroes of Battle, Magic of Incarnum, and Magic of Eberron, and he's also helped develop many exciting upcoming D&D products, including Player's Handbook II, Monster Manual IV, Tome of Magic and Tome of Battle! Stephen also is the lead developer for D&D Miniatures starting with next July's War of the Dragon Queen.